Forget 15 minutes of fame, Joe Wicks only needed 15 seconds. In 2014 Wicks was a personal trainer with a degree in sports science, waking at the crack of dawn each morning to take poor-to-middlingly attended boot camps. He started sharing short clips showing healthy recipes and fitness tips on Instagram, branding himself The Body Coach, and these #Leanin15 posts (15-second videos for 15-minute meals) with Wicks’ high-energy, high-impact presenting style turned him into a social media superstar.
But his impact goes far beyond that now. This month, the 30-year-old from Epsom in Surrey releases his fourth book in an eight-book deal. His first became the second biggest selling cookbook of all time, the next two made him the bestselling non-fiction author of 2016, and he ended last year occupying the top three positions in the book charts – the first non-fiction author ever to have done so. The popularity of his recipes even boosted sales of Tenderstem broccoli by 25 per cent! Wicks is currently filming his second series for Channel 4 and is estimated to make £1m a month, remarkable given that he gives most of his content (unless you want it in book form) away for free online.
There is no secret to his phenomenal success. He delivers simple, positive messages about getting fit and feeling good with charm, charisma and, let’s face it, he is criminally handsome. “Glad to be doing an interview with you guys,” he says. “I think it’s an amazing business and an amazing thing to do for people. I love it, it’s great.”
The Big Issue: There are a lot of changes going on in the world at the moment and we can sometimes feel quite powerless – but one thing we can control is changing ourselves, so is that what we should focus on?
Joe Wicks: Happiness and self-confidence, and your energy and your productivity, all comes back to your food and your exercise and your ability to sleep well and hydrate. You can achieve more when you’re fuelling your body better – you are an engine and what you put in your body will determine how you feel and how you run each day. Me personally, when I eat well and exercise I’m nicer to be around, I’m more fun, I get more shit done, I inspire more people, I smash social media. When I have a day where I don’t exercise and I eat crap food I’m shit.
I deliver my message in a really simple way that your mum or your grandma or a student at college can do
Why is fitness such a massive industry when essentially it’s about keeping it simple: eating better and exercising more?
People have a lot of barriers in their head, they’ve done all the diets and it didn’t work. You ain’t got to do it that way, you don’t have to starve yourself. I’m just saying the same thing loads of trainers have been saying for years but I suppose I’ve cut through all the bollocks and the preachy patronising: ‘You’ve got to do it this way and this is the only way’. I deliver my message in a really simple way that your mum or your grandma or a student at college can do – this is how I stay lean, these are the sort of recipes I cook in a quick 15-minute window, these are the workouts I do.
— The Body Coach (@thebodycoach) June 6, 2017
Why do we get obsessed by diets?
We’re a nation of convenience. Everything’s got to be quick. We work, work, work and have less time in the kitchen, less time to keep fit – people have that excuse in their head. You can make a lifestyle change, you can enjoy exercise, you can fit it around your job, being a mum and dad. You don’t have to be overweight and unfit.
Last year, 27,000 people worldwide earned an income selling street papers, making a total of £23.4 million.
Are people now more aware about things like fat, calories, carbs?
Old-school science is like, just count the calories and if you’re in a calorie deficit you can eat 1,200 calories of McDonald’s if you want, like it’s the same as 1,200 calories of healthy food like avocadoes, nuts and salmon. Obviously that’s wrong because your body digests things very differently. Eat real food, plant-based, natural ingredients. People are more aware now. You can’t get away with eating a bowl of sugary cereal.
I recently bought a grrreat breakfast cereal that said it contained 30 per cent less sugar but I was disappointed.
They tasted shit did they?
It tasted like there was 30 per cent less sugar in them.
There’s so much hidden sugar in cereal, in juices, low-fat yoghurts, smoothies. You could give yourself 100g of sugar before you get to work without knowing.
People are more aware now. You can’t get away with eating a bowl of sugary cereal
There is a gym on every corner now but is it more important to get people who would never join one and don’t like sport to realise they can do something about their health and fitness?
Hold tight for these low carb chicken and bacon breakfast muffins 😍👌🏽 pic.twitter.com/iNLywXkmcu
— The Body Coach (@thebodycoach) May 30, 2017
People who have gym memberships, they’re alright, they know what they’re doing, it’s the people who don’t and maybe can’t afford it. There’s so much free content, so many YouTube channels – you don’t need an expensive gym membership to be healthy.
Have you ever thought that your videos shouldn’t be giving so much away for free?
No, I want to give more. You’ve got to build your audience, love your community, be very grateful to them. Building a community has taken me a long time. The minute I lose that it’s all over. My whole business and philosophy is built on giving out free content. People need the information. When I release the book it’s lovely people buy it, but I believe you should give before you get given.
As amazing as it sounds, Joe Wicks is responsible for a 25 per cent increase in broccoli sales, which in his videos he dubs “midget trees”. Michelle Toft is chief marketing officer at Coregeo, the company that looks after the Tenderstem breed of broccoli Wicks favours. “The wonderful Joe Wicks and his love of midget trees, AKA Tenderstem, has seen a definite impact on sales,” Toft told The Big Issue. “Showing how versatile, quick and easy it is to cook with gives consumers the confidence to try a new vegetable or recipe, expanding their repertoire in the kitchen. Sales continue to increase.”
What’s the idea behind your latest book, Cooking for Family and Friends?
The first three books are more about cooking for one or two people, they’re a bit insular – you at work with your little Tupperware box. I thought it was time to get the family involved, and anyone who comes round for a barbeque. When you have a dinner party, instead of ordering a pizza you can make a pizza, rather than getting a greasy takeaway you can make an amazing curry together.
Recipes include: Nanny Kath’s Beef Stew, The Lamb Shank Redemption, Joe’s Big Meaty Balls. What are they like?
They’re a bit of mixed mince. I love giving them a silly name. Proper nice family food that people will enjoy but also stay healthy when they’re eating it.
The only real way to get lean is to take control of your food
Where do you get your recipes from?
If I eat in restaurants or travel abroad I get ideas. But it’s challenging. I’ve done 400 recipes now and I’ve got eight books to write so that’s 800 recipes that have got to be different. You’ve just got to be creative.
I don’t think I could make something different for each day of the week, you have more than one for each day of the year.
Yeah it’s pretty intense but some of them are variations, different curries and stir-fries. Not all revolutionary food but quick – few ingredients and easy to make.
Wicks’ way: my three-step guide to getting off your arse
1. Make small changes. Don’t try to cut everything out and be a hero. The only real way to get lean is to take control of your food. Clear the junk out of your cupboards because you don’t need that any more. Go food-shopping, get healthy ingredients, start to plan your week. You might prep your meals the night before so it’s set and you don’t have to eat takeaway.
2. Take regular exercise. Ten, 15 or 30 minutes a day, four or five times a week. It doesn’t seem like a lot but you can get really good results and feel great. And yeah, sustain it. Once you do 10 minutes you’re going to feel better and it’s a cumulative effect – you’ll make a better breakfast that day, you won’t eat a takeaway, you might drink water instead of that can of fizzy drink. Getting going is difficult but momentum will carry you the rest of the way.
3. Sensible and disciplined. If you’re serious about burning fat and getting in shape, you’ve got to be a little bit sensible, a bit disciplined. You can drink but don’t go smashing it every weekend because you won’t want to train, you won’t want to eat well, you won’t sleep well and it has a knock-on effect. Combine these three things and you’re set.
What is your motivation?
The same as it was when I started. I genuinely love getting people up off their arses. I was out on Saturday night and three girls came up to me and said you completely changed my life. I love hearing that. That never gets boring.
Do you run your business like it’s a fitness plan – always pushing harder, aiming higher?
I haven’t really had a strategy. I don’t have a five-year plan. I think about the now. I do want to start thinking a bit more into the future – I could burn really brightly for a year or two and fizzle out or in 20 years’ time I could be like Jamie Oliver, doing awesome stuff and still being relevant. I definitely feel like I’ve just started.
Cooking for Family and Friends by Joe Wicks is out now (Bluebird, £20)